MADISON, Wis. --
Airmen and officers assigned to the 115th Fighter Wing volunteered to participate in off-base training for the F-35 Lightning II conversion that began in December 2020.
“This is a big milestone for the conversion,” said Lt. Col. Charles Merkel, the 115FW vice wing commander and a member of the 115FW F-35 unit conversion office. “Thanks to all of our volunteers for being willing to relocate – you will be the future of our F-35 conversion in the maintenance group!”
Members from across the base will be participating in this transition. This first round of volunteers includes 16 Airmen from avionics and crew chiefs, and six of the fighter wing’s pilots. They will be attending training in various locations such as Luke Air Force Base, Eglin Air Force Base, Vermont Air National Guard, Eielson Air Force Base, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Nellis Air Force Base, and Hill Air Force Base.
“These 16 people are going off to F-35 training in various career fields and they’re going to become our experts,” said Chief Master Sgt. Robert Hintz, a member of the 115FW F-35 conversion office. “They’re going to have the most training out of any of our personnel here and when they come back they’re going to be key players in training our new members and getting our first arrival aircraft all figured out.”
The Airmen will be learning the skills necessary in their career fields to maintain the F-35s once they arrive on base.
“This experience will give me opportunities that were merely only dreams and thoughts of accomplishing prior to this,” said Staff Sgt. Corey Deltgen, an avionics technician assigned to the 115th Fighter Wing. “I feel honored to be one of the select few members to be transferring to the next gen aircraft prior to receiving them here and the opportunities that will come along with that.”
Most of the Airmen will temporarily be leaving their jobs and homes in order to fulfill this required transition.
“They’re all volunteers and some of them are even giving up their Active Guard Reserve positions to go off and do this while working as active duty,” said Chief Hintz. “It’s a pretty big deal.”
Enlisted and officers alike are excited for this opportunity to expand their knowledge in their career fields and bring a new breadth of experience to their unit.
“The conversion to the F-35 is such an exciting time and these Airmen are already leading the way - they will become our first experts on our new mission,” said Col. Willa Panzer, the 115FW maintenance group commander. “I could not be more proud to have this group of individuals represent the great maintainers of the 115th, the wing, state and Air National Guard.”
The 115th Fighter Wing has been working diligently for many years to achieve the progress they have made.
“This project has taken more than 10 years of consistent work that the Wing has done to get to this point,” said Col. Bart Van Roo, the 115FW commander. “We really need you to come back here as leaders in your field and I know they selected you because of that. It’s a lot of responsibility… you’re the group that is going to take us long into the F-35.”
Col. Van Roo ensured the Airmen that if their families needed any support to reach out early so the wing can do as much for them as they can as soon as possible.
“You have a lot of support and you do great work here, thank you for all you do. I really look forward to having you all come back as leaders.”